New York Yankees' Nick Swisher takes off his helmet after striking out to Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Darren O'Day.
Miguel Gonzalez and the surprising Orioles are doing all they can to crash the Yankees' party in the AL East.
The rookie struck out a career-high nine over seven shutout innings in a masterful pitching performance and Mark Reynolds homered twice as Baltimore tightened the division race Friday night with a 6-1 victory over New York.
J.J. Hardy added a solo shot for the Orioles, who moved within two games of the first-place Yankees by winning the opener of their big three-game series. That's the closest Baltimore has been since a 1½-game deficit on June 22, less than a month before the Yankees opened a season-high 10-game cushion on July 18.
"Keep doubting, we don't care," Reynolds said. "We're coming in, doing our jobs and doing the little things to win baseball games."
Buck Showalter's young team has been gaining ground all month, winning 18 of its last 25 to head into September as serious playoff contenders for the first time in 15 years.
The latest victory increased Baltimore's lead over Tampa Bay to 2½ games for the second AL wild-card spot. Sitting at his locker, however, reliever Luis Ayala wore an orange T-shirt that summed up the Orioles' primary goal: "Buck the Yankees."
"You can tell, especially in this clubhouse, the quiet confidence that everyone has, expecting to win every night," Reynolds said. "So we're just going to keep riding this wave as long as it lasts."
Reynolds made two spectacular plays at first base and Chris Davis had a sacrifice fly in Baltimore's three-run second against Hiroki Kuroda (12-10), the Yankees' most consistent and durable starter this season. The 37-year-old right-hander gave up eight hits in 8 1-3 innings, going at least eight for the fourth straight outing, but again was hurt by a lack of run support.
Pitching on 10 days' rest, Gonzalez (6-3) yielded only four harmless singles to win for the fourth time in five decisions. He walked one and threw 66 of 97 pitches for strikes in his second win at Yankee Stadium. The right-hander beat New York 5-4 on July 30, setting his previous career best with eight strikeouts in 6 2-3 innings.
"I think the adrenaline gets me going, helps me out," Gonzalez said. "I just like pitching against a good offensive team, I guess."
Featuring a fine changeup and spotting his sneaky 91-93 mph fastball effectively, Gonzalez pitched like a poised veteran in his 10th major league start as the Orioles improved to 5-2 at Yankee Stadium this year. He didn't have a three-ball count until the sixth inning.
"He was real fresh tonight. Obviously, he responded," Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair said. "I think Gonzo's a guy that really stays in the moment. He knows where he's been. ... He's a very fierce competitor. So we're glad to have him."
Swisher whiffed all four times up for the skidding Yankees, who have dropped seven of 10 and nine of 14. This was the first of 10 consecutive games against Baltimore and Tampa Bay, their two closest pursuers in the AL East.
The 28-year-old Gonzalez, born in Mexico, sat out the 2008 and 2009 seasons because of a knee injury and Tommy John surgery. He was 0-7 with a 5.40 ERA at three spots in Boston's farm system last season, then was released by the Red Sox in December. He signed with Baltimore during spring training and began the season at Triple-A Norfolk.
"I think he's a guy that's just letting it fly and trusting himself," Showalter said. "He doesn't have anything to lose. Heck, he's had a lot of people in his career tell him that he couldn't do something and I think he knows he's in a place where people get him and know what he brings."
The absence of injured sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira is catching up with the Yankees. Dominated by Gonzalez, they have three hits in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position over the past two games.
"It just seemed like his fastball was getting on the hitters quicker than they thought," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Darren O'Day worked the eighth and Brian Matusz gave up Curtis Granderson's 34th home run in the ninth before finishing the five-hitter. But the story was Gonzalez.
"He was just filling up the strike zone," Swisher said. "He's kind of a shorter guy, kind of throws it right out of his ear. You've just got to give him credit, man. He shut us down tonight."
Adam Jones and Matt Wieters opened the second inning with consecutive singles before Davis' sacrifice fly put the Orioles in front. Reynolds followed with a two-run drive into the second deck in left.
Reynolds connected again off Derek Lowe with two outs in the ninth. Nick Markakis added an RBI single to make it 6-0.
Hardy hit his 18th homer off Kuroda in the sixth. Baltimore has won 18 games in a month for the first time since September 2004.